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I take no issue with prologues. In fact, I use them about as often as I don’t use them, when I’m trying to set the scene for a history between two characters, when I plan to start the book in a different POV and I want to give insight into the other character’s thoughts, etc. I think there are times when a prologue is helpful and times when it isn’t, and I know not everyone agrees. That said, you’ll want to keep some things in mind when starting with a prologue.
Make Sure It Counts
You don’t need a prologue. In fact, your editor may cut it. But when you do decide to start with a prologue, make sure it has value. Does it give backstory that can’t be given elsewhere? Does it provide context for a relationship that has to be done before the story can start? If the answer is no, skip the prologue.
Does it Slow the Story Down?
This is an important question to ask of any book beginning. Are we starting in a place that inspires the reader to keep reading or are we hitting our snooze button–what a crazy dream! There are a lot of weak openings and a lot of really great ones. It’s important to put your prologue in the heart of the action, the deciding moment, the big reveal. This will help add to its value and keep your reader from putting the book down.
Keep It Short
This may be a bit hypocritical because I do have one prologue that’s nearly a chapter long, but I felt the value of the backstory took precedence. Prologues aren’t the story, however. Most of the time they take place well before the story begins, the moment a character watches his father die and it sets him on a path for the rest of his life, when a young woman’s lover heads for distant hills and inspires her to leave society, etc. If your prologue is too long, your audience may lose interest.
Maintain the Tone
It isn’t the book, but it is the book too. The prologue has to have the same tone, language and general voice of the rest of the story. I mean, right.
Info dumping loses readers. Yes, prologues are all about backstory and such, but just like with any scene, you can weave that information in over time. In fact, the less you reveal, the more there is for your reader to find out in later pages. Passages with too much information or ones that feel as though a character’s biography is being read aloud are usually pretty dull.
Prologues aren’t necessary, but I most definitely believe that certain books benefit from them. That said, it’s important to write a good prologue, one that really serves the story, rather than writing a prologue for prologue’s sake. Once your book is done, ask yourself–could the story survive without the prologue? Will it be better? That will give you the information you need to determine whether or not to keep it.